Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no hesitation in allowing Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea to return to Spain for the birth of his first child as Dean Henderson prepares to line up against rivals Manchester City.
The long-serving number one was conspicuous by his absence from Wednesday’s drab goalless league draw at Crystal Palace due to what were repeatedly described as “personal reasons”.
De Gea has since confirmed that his partner gave birth on Thursday, with the club giving their first-choice keeper permission to return to his homeland despite the potential coronavirus-related quarantine headaches.
Solskjaer expects him to be back soon but could not give a timeframe as Henderson prepares to line up in Sunday’s tough trip to relentless runaway Premier League leaders City.
“It’s a fantastic day for David,” the United boss said. “Of course when you become a dad that’s probably the best possible feeling you can have.
“The ones who have been lucky enough to have that feeling know exactly what David is going through now.
“I’ll give him the time he needs before he comes back. He has to go home and in the old world that’s a day, you come back and you’re ready again.
“Now with the pandemic and quarantines of course it’s a different world, but still we felt when David wanted to go and be there to support his girlfriend of course there’s not even a decision to make.
“Dean came in and played well and he’s ready, so I’ll give David the time he needs of course.”
Henderson would have likely started three of the next four next matches given he is United’s cup goalkeeper anyway, with the Europa League last-16 fixtures against AC Milan and FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester coming up.
The international break follows the March 21 trip to the King Power Stadium but Solskjaer expects De Gea “to be available very soon” as they “just have to follow the Government rules”.
“We want our players back as soon as possible but there’s a human being in there that we had to look after and David was there for this fantastic day for him, his girlfriend and his family,” the Norwegian said.
“I don’t know when he’ll be back. It won’t be long before he comes.
“It was easy when I travelled back from the Euros. (My son) Noah was born on a Friday and I played against Spain on the Tuesday, travelling back on a Sunday. No quarantines, nothing.
“The world’s a different place but, still, this is the biggest occasion in any parents’ lives so of course we allowed him to go.
“But Dean did well against Palace and I’m sure he’s looking forward to this City game as well.
“He’s had that experience already this season in the Carabao Cup so that will stand him in good stead.”
United lost that semi-final clash 2-0 to their rivals in January but rallied after that disappointment to go top of the Premier League.
City usurped them on January 26 and have since built a 14-point cushion over Solskjaer’s second-placed side, who have won only two of their last eight top-flight matches.
“Our focus is just on this one game and not where we’re going to end up, we just have to be the best possible Man United and try to improve on last season,” he said.
“That means moving up the table, getting more points, hopefully challenge or get to a final, win a trophy.
“What other teams do we can’t control, so we have to just keep at it ourselves, challenge ourselves.
“They’re ahead of us by a fair distance at the moment so Sunday’s a chance to test ourselves against a very good team.”
Juan Mata and Phil Jones will be missing at the Etihad Stadium, where Solskjaer is “still hoping to get one or two back”.
Donny Van De Beek was absent for the trip to Palace with an unspecified injury, while Anthony Martial missed out after sustaining a knee complaint in training on Monday and Paul Pogba has been out with a thigh issue.
“I would believe at least Victor (Lindelof) should be fine,” Solskjaer added.
“He was on the bench but he was still feeling the effects of his back but hopefully he’ll be OK.
“Martial maybe. I probably wouldn’t see Paul being ready, no.”